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Monday, June 30, 2008

Checking out the Local

My hand was forced on Saturday morning. Due to an unprecedented amount of pressure being placed on our usually cruisy weekend, I had to brave the cold (and the sheer fact of being out of the house before 10am!) and whip around the local farmer's market in Porirua. I know it was barely last week that I stated how unlikely that was to happen, and along comes the universe to prove me wrong.

There was no time for photos, and since I was on my own I didn't even have the bonus of Isaac's buggy to load up with the good stuff to be found there. Accordingly, since I had to carry it all on my shoulders in reusable bags, I hurried through the stalls, snapping up bargains and checking prices and quality, before doing a second circuit to make sure I had covered everything on my shopping list.

Overall, there were less stalls and so a little bit less in the way of variety and value, but what we must have saved in petrol by not having to drive over the hill to the Hutt certainly made up for that. It would be worth making it out of bed to get down there again in the future, and since I managed it on the coldest Saturday morning that we've had so far this year, I can probably make it happen in the future, too.

Pumpkin update: Still no news. Suspect we may have more luck when it gets warmer.

Seedlings update: Broccoli and spinach were doing well until the rain turned our lawn into a pond, and our cat decided that she couldn't swim through that, so she dug up the planter boxes to, well, you know. Salvaged what we could, but its probably back to square one there.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Searching for Breakfast Inspiration

It was a rather uninspired week on the cooking front. Between family being sick and myself being focused on revising the second draft of my novel, this blog has been a bit, shall we say, underfed. We had a few repeats of earlier meals, as well a few simple things like bacon and egg sandwiches, and leftover pizza from the freezer with fresh veges.

Last night we had alfredo with bacon instead of chicken, which deserves mention. Just cook up the sauce and pasta as per instruction, and fry up 4 sliced rashers of bacon, one chopped onion and a couple of sliced garlic cloves. We had carrot sticks and tomato wedges with it, and it was good.

But today I want to focus on some real rainy Sunday morning comfort food, because today its really, REALLY raining. What better to have on a write-off rainy weekend morning than big, fluffy pancakes? If it hadn't been raining so hard, I would've even made it out to the tree for a lemon, but as it was, we managed with cream, banana, and syrup, as well as fresh, hot coffee. Mmmm.

Fluffy Pancakes (like them Americans make)

115g Flour
1 heaped t Baking Powder
140ml Milk
3 Large Free Range Eggs
1 pinch salt

Separate Eggs. Mix the yolks, flour, baking powder and milk up to a smooth batter.

Whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then gently fold the whites into the batter with a rubber spatula. Do not overmix, or the air will all be forced out of the batter and you won't have fluffy pancakes.

Melt some butter in a pan (I do two small pans at once) and place a 1/2 cup of batter in the pan to cook. When the underside is golden brown, flip the pancake and cook through. Serve with syrup, cream, jam, lemon juice, peanut butter, banana, or whatever you like.

This recipe makes about 7 pancakes, which used to be enough for us but is a bit light now, so increase the recipe accordingly if you feel you've been shortchanged.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I have to admit, I love eating a good curry, but my efforts over the years to make them have never come out terribly well. Much as I like the tangy sweet beef curry that my mother is so fond of, its always felt like a bit of a British copout, all full of apple and raisins and stuff as it is. Don't get me wrong, its a fine dish, and may well grace these pages in the not-to-distant future, but I decided it was time to try something more authentic.

What I created may not have been authentic, but it was quick and easy, and it tasted really good. I had in mind the leftover chicken from Sunday's roast; I knew we had a tin of Coconut Cream in the cupboard begging to be used; and I thought that this combined with Banana would be delicious. Yes, others before you have also called me crazy, but this time, it was to prove a winner.

Chicken Banana Curry

Cut a large potato into pieces and boil. I would probably do a small potato and a small kumera next time.

Put on a pot of Rice.

In a large pan, fry the following:
2 Chicken Breasts cut into cubes (I used meat off a roast chicken, but you can use fresh meat if you take more time to cook it properly)

2 t Curry Powder (Modify this to suit your Chilli Palate - Not being a curry expert, I just bought a premixed Mild Curry Powder)

1 Chopped Onion

4 Chopped Garlic Cloves

When the meat is brown all over, add to the pot:

1 Tin of Coconut Cream

Juice of 1 Small Lemon

2 t Chicken Stock Powder

2T of Cornflour mixed with 100ml water

Stir in, bring to the boil and let cook for 10 mins.

In a sieve over the boiling rice, blanch a handful of fresh veges: Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower, or what have you.
Add the potato, veges, and one large sliced banana to the curry pot, and heat through (about 5 minutes). Dish up on rice with water to go around.

I have to say, for a first go at making a proper curry (don't ask me to define proper), I was pleasantly surprised. Would probably also be nice with roti breads and a bit of raita.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Roast Pumpkin Soup

This meal is all about economy, and rides on the back of the Roast Chicken Amazing Multiple Meal Deal. Since the oven's already going, there's no point wasting all that good energy on just one meal. This recipe tends to make two big lunch servings, which I usually take to work with a bit of toast bread. I also reserve the breasts for a second meal, which makes a chicken go an awfully long way. It also makes an extra half-litre of stock that you can put aside for something else in the future, instead of resorting to powdered ingredients.

Since I stuck with a regular cordon bleu treatment for the chook (salt and pepper on the outside, one skewered lemon and 4 peeled garlic cloves stuffed in the cavity), I could spend some time seasoning the veges nicely. I went with freshly ground salt & pepper, lemon zest, paprika, finely chopped rosemary and grated garlic. This adds something special to both the roast and the soup.

Roast Pumpkin Soup

Chop up and roast a whole pumpkin as part of a roast dinner. I know that I will only need to serve about a quarter of it for dinner, which leaves the rest for soup. Boil up a stock from the chicken back and neck after it has roasted, along with all the scraps from prepping the veges, plus an extra onion and maybe a potato. Generally there's enough in the way of peelings and stuff to make about a litre of stock.

Simmer this away on the back of the stove while watching Sunday night TV, then strain it into a bowl and pop it in the fridge for 1/2 an hour to allow some of the fat to separate off the liquid.

Scrape the pumpkin off its skin and chop up whatever leftover veges you have - usually some potato, kumera, and onion, and place them all in another bowl. Add about 400ml of stock and puree up with a hand blender, until it reaches a thick and smooth consistency with some chunky bits.

Today I was home on "looking-after-the-sick-family-sick-leave", and had some for lunch, with a big dollop of sour cream. Delicious, and just what I felt like on a cold and rainy day.

Tonight I'll be Making the Most of the Roast again, using the breasts from last night's chook to make a coconut and banana curry. I'll let you know how it turns out!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Buffalo Meatballs with Orange Pasta Sauce

I learned a few things from my initial attempt to make Pizza Sauce. Firstly, it pays to have some idea of what you're doing before you waste a lot of time, food and power converting good ingredients into mush. So this time, I did my research. Tomatoes were relatively cheap at the market today, so I got a bag and found a recipe for pasta sauce. Then I modified the recipe to match what I had on hand, and as a result, I ended up with a rather unique Orange Pasta Sauce. There are things I would change about it next time, but it worked for what it was. Because this was a trial run, I halved all the ingredients from the base recipe (apart from the carrot, which I used to substitute both capsicum and celery). If I was making a recipe I was confident was great, it would make more sense to do double the recipe and keep some for later. So don't be surprised if you get a paltry amount of sauce out of this. It did enough for 4 adult servings and one toddler.

Together with the Pasta Sauce (Mk II), I made fresh meatballs, boiled up some noodles, and steamed some fresh veges (for a change). Lovely stuff.

Special Orange Pasta Sauce (No Oranges Required)

Boil a pot of water on the stove, and have a pot of iced water standing by. Pop 5 tomatoes in the boiling water, watching for the skins to split (about 1 minute). Remove the tomatoes to the ice water and leave for a few minutes. (See, I knew that I'd read something like that somewhere). Remove the skins (so easy!) and slice, scooping out the seeds.

Chop 4 into a bowl and puree. Chop the last one roughly and put aside. Heat a splash of Olive Oil and a hunk of butter in a medium pot, and cook 1 chopped onion, 3 small chopped carrots (see, orange!), and about 6 finely sliced cloves of garlic. Cook until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the pureed tomatoes, the chopped tomato, 1/2 handful of chopped Oregano leaves, 1 pinch of dried Italian herbs, 1 small bay leaf, and 30ml of Red Wine. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 1 /2 hours. Add 15ml of Tomato Paste Concentrate, and simmer for a further 1 1/2 hrs. Discard the bayleaf and serve as required (see below).

Buffalo Meatballs (No Buffalo Required)

In a large mixing bowl, place about 500g of mince, 5 finely chopped garlic cloves, freshly ground salt and pepper, a grate of nutmeg, a pinch of dried mixed herbs, 1t of mustard powder, and 2t of paprika. Break in one Free Range Egg and mix thoroughly, until the mixture holds together nicely. Lay out 2 plates and sprinkle both with flour. Using a pair of soup spoons, roll the meat mixture out into even sized balls. Roll the complete meatball in the first plate of flour, then place on the second plate.

This helps to stop the meatballs sticking to the plate before you get to cooking them. Heat a layer of oil in a pan, and place the meatballs in it. Turn the meatballs as they brown, taking care not to let them stick or burn.

When the meatballs are ready, place in an oven dish lined with oiled tinfoil. Grate colby cheese followed by parmesan cheese over the meatballs and fold the tinfoil over, without covering them. Place in the oven at 200C, for about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and spoon some Special Orange Pasta Sauce (or other Pasta Sauce - I won't take it personally) around the meatballs. Bake for another 10 minutes, then switch the oven over to grill and place the meatballs under it. When the cheese has browned up nicely, pull out and dish.

To Serve

Boil up a pot of long noodly pasta (whatever you prefer), drain when cooked and stir the Pasta Sauce through it. If you are using a freshly cooked pasta sauce, you can dish immediately. If you are using a jar or can of sauce, return to the stove and heat through. Layer the noodles, then the meatballs, and dress with EV Olive Oil, freshly ground pepper, and parmesan cheese.

Then try to find a plate
at the table with anything left on it.

Call Yourself a Market?

A few weeks ago, we swung past the Tawa market, but from the signs and the number of people and trucks about, we thought that it mustn't have been up and running yet, so we went to the Hutt instead.

Today, as things worked out, it was far more convenient for us to go to the Tawa Market, and since it was already an hour since its official start time, I took Isaac and we drove down there, expecting to find a half-dozen vendors at least.

There was one truck, and a stall selling eggs for three times the price you can get them at the Hutt Market. I put Isaac back in the car, went home to pick up C, and we went to the Hutt instead.

Since when is one grocery truck a market? I checked over the prices, and I might as well have gone to a supermarket if I was going to get my veges there instead of at the Hutt Market.

So now it looks like we'll be trekking over to the Hutt every week, unless by some miracle we manage to get in to the Porirua Market, which is pretty much driving away by 8.30am. I can't see that happening anytime soon.

Just a little moan. Now I'll move on to the Saturday Night Dinner Post: Homemade Meatballs with Special Orange Pasta Sauce.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Almost a Vegetarian Night

There are many good reasons why we should all try to make one or two meals a week vego. Aside from any ethical or moral reasons, which I can't really declaim about since I'm a well-publicised eater of meat, it makes sense both in terms of our physical and financial health to put less meat and more veges on the table.

As well as our new tradition of getting to the market every week, and the extra veges that's putting on our plate every night as a result, we also decided that we would try to cook at least one vegetarian meal every week, just like we do at least one leftover meal out of a big roast or lasagne or whatever. Last week we made nachoes with a tin of chilli beans and a tin of baked beans, which was really good.

The next day, I was glad that I work in a large, open space.

Tonight, we had wedges on the menu again, just because they are easy and yummy. I decided that this would be a good opportunity for a vegetarian meal, even though C had planned on us having them with fried bacon and onion, which I completely forgot about. So all was moving nicely towards our having a vege meal this week, when I remembered that I had forgotten to take my lunch to work today. And once a piece of lasagne has thawed from the freezer, it really has to be eaten.

So tonight we ate vegetarian wedges, with a pile of steaming brocolli, cauli and carrots, a big serving of garlicky cabbage, and sour cream and sweet chilli sauce.

With a side of lasagne.

We tried. That's all anyone can ask, surely.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Free Rice!!

No not for you, for REALLY hungry people.

Go here to have a look at the "Guess what a word means to donate Rice to the World Food Program" site.

Big Ups to Moose for this link.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A recipe for Risotto what I stoleded...

I discovered two new things last week: Risotto, and deseeding tomatoes.

The Risotto I will cover in detail just below. The concept of removing most of what makes the tomato a tomato struck me as strange, even slightly blasphemous, but I gave it a go anyway. I have resolved to try it in other things in the future, as it worked quite well in this particular instance. For the risotto, it added some flavour, colour and body to the dish without introducing a sudden excess of moisture that then would have had to be cooked off, and the acidity may have thoroughly altered the dynamic of the meal. For the record, I tried it in my stuffed sausages tonight, and it left them too dry, so its not for every meal. On the matter of "why-would-you-waste-so-much-of-the-tomato?", I figure the seeds just go into the compost, which goes into the garden eventually, and then up pop lovely wild tomatoes. Its like a storage vault, much like the flash one they just built in Norway, only closer and warmer.

It must be easy to make risotto if I can manage a reasonably passable one on my first try. I was surprised. When we were growing up, the only risottos I knew were those weird packet microwave ones, that are all dry and tasted like numbers. I couldn't fathom why anyone would want to willingly cook up something like that.

Then as time went by I kept seeing cooking shows where cooks were whipping up moist, delicious looking risottos that didn't take long and, it seems, were as flexible as your imagination. And I wondered, maybe there was something in it. Like rice, for example.

More time went by.

Then it happened. By the magic of the preplanned menu, we decided to make a risotto. Here's the trick: I used a recipe (!!) There's a prize for anyone who can identify the origin of this recipe, which I have modified slightly so as not to infringe any copyrights. I'll give you one clue: it's a New Zealand Chef.

Ham & Tomato Risotto

Heat 2T of olive oil in a large pan, preferably a cast iron one. Chop up an onion and a few cloves of garlic and soften this in the oil. Chop up 250g Ham and add this to the pan. Brown this lightly, before adding 1C of Arborio rice.

Cook this all together for about 3 minutes. Pour in 1/2C of Vegetable stock and simmer until absorbed. Add another 1/2C and repeat, until you have added 2 - 2 1/2C of stock to the pan. If you have homemade vege stock on hand, use this. If not, you can get some quite good real stocks from the supermarket, which is what we used this time.

Deseed and dice 3 tomatoes and grate 1/4C of Parmesan.

When the liquid has reduced down and the rice is cooked, add the tomatoes, parmesan, 1/4C of sour cream, and 1/4C of chopped fresh herbs (basil or similar - use less for stronger herbs like sage). Combine and season with freshly ground salt and pepper. Heat through and serve with freshly grated parmesan and a little drizzle of EV Olive Oil, plus freshly ground pepper if you like.

Just like that.

BTW, there's not really a prize, but have a guess anyway.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lasagne (no need for a clever tag here)

When it comes to labour intensive, you don't get much more intense than making Lasagne. Not if you do it properly anyway. There are several shortcuts you can take, and this is all good and well if you don't have the time or the energy to get in and do it all yourself. I know for a fact that you can slap up a Lasagne in about 20 minutes, plus another 20 under the grill, if you use every shortcut you can imagine. But if I know I have a Saturday afternoon to spend in the kitchen, and Lasagne is on the menu, then I'm going to go all the way.

I make the pasta fresh.

I cook the meat for several hours.

C makes the cheese sauce fresh.

And there's nothing you can buy that tastes anything like it.

Fresh Lasagne Sheets

This same recipe can be used to make all sorts of pasta, from linguine to ravioli, but it does rely on you having a Pasta Machine, or a lot of patience with a rolling pin. I tend to reserve making fresh pasta for things like ravioli, where you really need the fresh sheets to work with, but since I didn't have any dried lasagne in the cupboard, I decided to get out the Machine and make some fresh. We got the Pasta Machine as a wedding present, and it's great to use once you get the hang of it.

Shortcut: Buy dry Lasagne sheets from the Supermarket (But be aware that it pays to preboil these before building your Lasagne, which can be a messy process)

Make up a quantity of pasta to suit your menu. I mix 100g of High Grade Flour with 1 Egg for every 2 people I'd be feeding, but it's best to make up between 300 and 500g worth. Use the biggest freshest Free Range Eggs you can find. Sift the flour into a bowl and break the eggs into a well in the centre. Break up the eggs with a fork and bring the flour in to make a rough dough.

Tip this onto a clean bench and work it with your hands until it is a silky, elastic ball of dough. Alternatively, you can do this in a blender or a food processor, and it works just as well. And I really mean it about the Free Range Eggs. Barn eggs just don't give you the same silky elasticity, and lovely deep colour (without waxing propogandic about the Free-Range/Battery Hen argument).

Wrap this in gladwrap and pop it in the fridge for at least an hour.

While the dough is resting, prepare the meat sauce (See Below).

After an hour or so in the fridge, get the dough out and cut a piece off. Return the rest of the dough to the fridge. Oil the rollers and sprinkle your bench or table either side of the Machine with flour. Be careful not to overhandle or overflour the pasta dough, as this will make it brittle and more likely to break before it's ready.

Flatten the dough down with your hand and start rolling it through on the widest setting. Step the rollers in one setting and repeat. Be sure to gently dust with flour as you go to prevent sticking.

This will take some practice, and it can be frustrating at first, but once you get the knack it's both fun and easy. Even Isaac can do it!

Keep rolling the sheet through until you get to the last or second-to-last setting, or until you feel the dough won't last another roll.

Hang the rolled sheet on the back of a chair.

Once you've rolled out all the dough, you can do what you like with it. For this exercise, I just sliced the ends off and cut the sheets into nice 8" x 4" pieces.

You can use the Pasta Machine to make spaghetti, linguine or fettucine, depending on the cutters, or you can use the long sheets to make ravioli or tortellini. If I feel inspired, I'll cover that in the next couple of months. The pasta cooks in boiling water in about 2 minutes, and can be served just with EV Olive Oil, Parmesan, and freshly ground pepper. Its amazing how nice it is like this.

Meat Sauce

Chop up a couple of onions, finely chop a head of garlic, and deseed and slice 2 small red chillis. Fry these in hot oil until the onion starts to soften.

Remove the onions to a bowl and heat more oil in the same pan. Add mince; you probably want to cook about 1 1/2 times as much as you would use if you were making a bolognaise. Brown the mince and season with freshly ground pepper, salt, and freshly grated nutmeg. Once the bulk of the moisture has cooked off the meat, add a splash of Worcester sauce and allow this to cook in. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, bring to the boil and reduce to a low simmer for at least 2 hours. If you can arrange to have this cooking for about 4 hours or even more, all the better. What you're aiming for is a Sauce, so the longer that mince can cook, the more it will break down and become less like chewy mince and more like a liquid.

Shortcut: Throw onions, garlic and mince in the pot at the same time. Season to taste. Brown and add a jar of pasta sauce. Simmer until hot through.

C's Famous Cheese Sauce

In a small saucepan, heat 50g of butter over a gentle heat. Slowly add a small scoop of flour, about 3-4 T, whisking vigourously until it thickens.

Add between 3/4 to 1 Cup of Milk, and don't allow this to boil. Add a Cup of grated Cheddar and 1/4 Cup of Parmesan, and melt this all through until you have a lovely cheese sauce consistency. Stand.

Shortcut: Buy a grotty packet of Add-Water Cheese Sauce and mix that up instead. If you really have to.

Building the Lasagne

Oil a large oven dish with a lid. Place a layer of meat sauce in the bottom, about 1cm thick.

Add a layer of lasagne sheets, overlapping slightly and ensuring that the edges of the dish are covered.

Add another layer of meat sauce, then a coating of cheese sauce. Keep in mind that you're making about 3 layers, so don't overdo it (like I always seem to). This takes discipline.

Lasagne Sheets, Meat Sauce, Cheese Sauce, Lasagne Sheets, Meat Sauce, Cheese Sauce. Then just to make sure that this dish doesn't get the Heart Foundation Tick, add some extra grated cheese and a grind of pepper. Sprinkle with paprika if you have some (which I didn't - sob!).

Put the lid on and place in an oven at 190C for 20 mins. Remove the lid and switch the oven over to grill for about 10 minutes.

Yip, its a bit of work, but you'll never get a Lasagne like this from a shop or by taking the shortcuts mentioned above. I've even had Lasagne in Italian Restaurants that aren't as good as this homemade recipe. Get into it on a weekend afternoon, then cut it up and freeze it in portions for really easy weeknight meals.

Enjoy, if you can find the time.

Next post: Ham Risotto

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Look at the Menu

I'd hate for you all to think that all we cook are long, slow, luxurious things like roasts and stews, or labour intensive meals like pizza. So just for the sake of it, I'd like to run through our menu for a normal week - last week, to be specific.


Menu Said: Stew with Dumplings
Actually Cooked: Stew with Dumplings


Menu Said: Roast Chicken with Veges
Actually Cooked: Roast Lamb with Veges


Menu Said: Leftovers with Veges
Actually Cooked: Lamb and Roast Vege Wraps


Menu Said: Bacon & Egg Pie
Actually Cooked: Soup and Bagels

(No photos here - the soup came from a can and the bagels from a shop. All very nice but no bragging allowed)


Menu Said: Soup and Toast (Fresh Bread)
Actually Cooked: Bacon & Egg Pie


Menu Said: Corn Fritters
Actually Cooked: Wedges with Bacon


Menu Said: Wedges
Actually Cooked: Risotto

So apart from the slow stuff on the weekends and the Bacon & Egg pie, which C had cooking by the time I got home from work on Wednesday, everything else was pretty much easy, quick and reasonably healthy. As for the menu, as the working week gets on, things break down a little, but we stay pretty close to the plan most of the time.

I'll keep the Risotto up my sleeve for next week, since tomorrow the big plan is to make a Lasagne, using freshly made pasta sheets and an old family recipe for meat sauce (not one that I will be making up as I go along, unlike the Top Secret Pasta Sauce debacle), as well as C's famous Cheese Sauce. But tonight's Risotto was a first for me, and it came out rather well, we thought. More on that later.

And for anyone who was wondering, no, the Pumpkins haven't sprouted yet. Will be sure to keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Top Secret Pizza Sauce

Right, here's the disclaimer:

Firstly, this recipe is so secret that even I don't know it.

Secondly, it may or may not be Pizza Sauce. It might be pasta sauce, it might be herby tomato concentrate, it might even be some form of as-yet-undiscovered alcoholic semi-beverage. I'll leave a bit in the sun for a while and see what happens.

What follows is not so much a recipe as a transpiration of events.

1. Discover that the really cheap tomatoes you got at the market on the weekend were priced thus for a reason, as you suspected at the time, and will need to be cooked up right away because you just can't see them going on a piece of toast, and you can't bear to throw them away.

2. Cobble together in your head everything you think you remember about making pizza or pasta sauce, but don't bother checking any recipe books or doing any research because its nowhere near as much fun that way.

3. Oil and season the tomatoes on an oven tray and put under a VERY HOT grill. Pull out and turn a couple of times as the skins crisp. Put out the small fire that starts when the baking paper touches said VERY HOT grill. Try to pick the ash off the cooked tomatoes.

4. Peel the skin off the tomatoes. This becomes a task for a knife and pair of tongs as, unsurprisingly, the tomatoes that have been under the VERY HOT grill are also, yes, VERY HOT.

5. Have a moment of hindsight, remembering that this was probably a job for a pot of boiling water and a bowl of cold water. Shrug, chalk it up to life experience, and justify actions by considering how much better roast tomatoes taste than boiled ones.

6. Search the house frantically looking for the sharpening steel, which was last seen on the weekend in the hands of the 16-month old kitchenhand, who obviously had some very important things to sharpen, like the couch and probably Daddy's boots. Fail to find said steel, which will later turn up in the tea-towel drawer.

7. Chop up an onion and put into a pot of RATHER HOT olive oil with some salt. Soften the onion, then try to answer the phone with a bottle of balsamic vinegar in one hand and accidentally over-vinegar the onion. Sadly, there is no way to get excess vinegar out of onion, so it becomes a feature of the dish rather than a suggestion.

8. Break up a head of garlic and place it on the bottom shelf of a VERY HOT oven, with the intention of lightly roasting them so as to squeeze the sweet stuff from the centre into the sauce. While this is cooking, continue to work on Yesterday's Blog Post, and forget all about the garlic until it has largely burnt to a hard crisp. Make a futile attempt to salvage what you can before giving up in despair.

9. Squeeze the peeled tomatoes through a sieve into the pot of onions and garlic, thus preventing the seeds and remaining skin from entering the sauce. Scrape off the bottom of the sieve with a sharp knife, and in the process spill a reasonable quantity of skin and seeds into the sauce. Make a futile attempt to salvage what you can before giving up in despair.

10. Add a large spoonful of sugar, a grind of salt and pepper, and a sprinkle of dried italian herbs. When this sprinkle turns out to be more of a shake, make a futile attempt to salvage what you can before giving up in despair. Just stir it all in and put it on the stove.

11. Allow to simmer very gently for about 4 hours. This seemed to come off without a hitch, probably because my lovely wife handled this part of the process while I was at work today.

12. Examine the final product. A bit acidy, a bit vinegary, not really pizza sauce, not pasta sauce, but maybe a good base for a stew or some other sort of tomato concentrate substitute. Feel at least a little satisfied that it wasn't a complete write-off, and don't think about how much electricity was wasted in the running of the VERY HOT grill and oven for three small tubs of uncertain nature.

13. Determine to get more sleep tonight, and to leave my next attempt at tomato sauce until the market is totally glutted with them in the late summer.

14. Decide that its not even worth putting up the photos of the debacle described above, as it would only add insult to injury. Instead, think how nice it would be to have a nice milo right about now. Act on this most wise of intuitions.

UPDATE - Do to an unprecedented response from the public (See 1 Comment below) I have rescinded my earlier decision and loaded the photos. Now you can decide for yourself whether the mixture above is edible or otherwise.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Making the Most of the Roast

Sunday was Roast Lamb Day again, having found another lovely joint for $12.00 at the supermarket. It replaced Roast Chicken on the menu, but that all worked out.

Without labouring the point, Sunday's lamb was much the same as last weekend's Lemon-Tossed Lamb Roast, with a few changes.

I tossed the Lamb with lemon and lime zest, salt and pepper and 2T of honey. Otherwise it was much the same. It came out crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside, and it went down awfully well. Uncle K, who was treated to the now infamous Sugar-Free Stew a few weeks ago, joined us for Sunday Roast and it was good.

What I really want to cover is what we did with the Leftovers.

In our menu we had planned on getting two nights' meals out of the roast, like we usually do with a chicken. For Monday night we picked up a packet of roti breads so we could have...

Roast Lamb and Vege Wraps

Chop up the leftover lamb and roast veges into roughly 1cm cubes and fry quickly in a hot pan.
Butter the Rotis very lightly and fry quickly in another hot pan.
In a third pan, fry a hunk of cabbage, some sliced garlic and a sliced courgette in some butter.

Lay the hot roti on a plate and dish a spoonful of the Lamb and Vege into the top quarter of the roti, followed by a spoonful of cabbage and courgette. Fold up the bottom, then each side, and press down. Dish up a pile of fresh steamed veges, sit down on the couch and enjoy. Of course, sauces are an option too. Normally I would go with an aioli or sweet chilli sauce, but since everything was so moist anyway I just went naked, which was superb.

It was quick and easy, and what's even better is that by the time we'd dished up enough for the two of us, there was still enough for another meal of the same. So one lamb roast for $12.00 ended up making 7 adult servings, for an average cost of less than $2.00 per person. That's what we like.

Next post: Will my attempts to make a pizza sauce meet with success or failure?

And on the subject of gardens

Getting back to my previous post regarding growing stuff, thanks to Jack for this link:

Don't Give Up

To quote briefly:

"Yet the sun still shines down on your garden, and photosynthesis still works so abundantly that in a thoughtfully organised vegetable patch (one planted from seed, nourished by compost from the kitchen and involving not too many drives to the garden centre), you can grow the proverbial free lunch - CO2-free and money-free. This is the most-local food you can possibly eat (not to mention the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious), with a carbon footprint so faint that even the New Zealand lamb council dares not challenge it. And while we're counting carbon, consider too your compost pile, which shrinks the heap of garbage your household needs trucked away even as it feeds your vegetables and sequesters carbon in your soil. What else? Well, you will probably notice that you're getting a pretty good workout there in your garden, burning calories without having to get into the car to drive to the gym. (It is one of the absurdities of the modern division of labour that, having replaced physical labour with fossil fuel, we now have to burn even more fossil fuel to keep our unemployed bodies in shape.) Also, by engaging both body and mind, time spent in the garden is time (and energy) subtracted from electronic forms of entertainment."

Whether you're converted and like to be preached to, or are in need of a bit of convincing that there's something we can do about our vampiric energy needs and its environmental impact, this is a well-written, well-thought out article, imho.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Winter is here

Oh yes. Jack Frost has been about, and the wind is now blowing cold from the north as well as the south.

After a week that has ranged from the mildly annoying to the downright depressing, it's finally the weekend again. We missed our trip to the market last week due to being in the South Island, but we braved the cold and the wind to get down there this morning. The sun came out and it was a clear crisp day at the riverbank with bargains to be found. We spent about $30, and the vege crisper, fruitbowl, and the cupboard where the onions, potatoes and kumaras live are all overflowing.

A quick word about garlic. Without any suggestion of xenophobia, I really have to recommend that you (assuming you're in NZ - if not, replace "NZ" with "local" just to make the same points) buy NZ garlic if you can find it. Most of what we get in the stores is grown overseas, particularly in China, and you'll see it in those jammed plastic mesh bags in the supermarket for bargain prices. NZ garlic is more expensive than the mass imported stuff you can get, but it has a much shorter drive to the market. Besides the reduced carbon footprint of buying local produce and the way that local stuff tends to taste better, we have stringent quality controls in place in NZ to regulate the quality of the soil that our food is grown in. But my main issue with the chinese garlic we have here is that by the time is gets to us, most of it is going green in the middle, and these bits have to be cut out, and the cloves are usually a bit rubbery. For the sake of knowing that you're eating a quality product that you can use completely and has been grown in good soil without having been shipped across an ocean to reach you, look out for NZ garlic.

Beef Stew with Lime, Chilli and Kumara

Cube about 400g of stewing steak (to serve 2 adults, 1 toddler and to leave enough for one lunch)

Finely slice a small head of garlic
Deseed and finely slice one small red chilli (You can up this amount if you are a chilli fiend - I went on the awfully mild side because my lovely wife is a chilliphobe and I thought I should be careful not to burn Isaac's mouth or else he might never eat chilli anything again!)

Grate the zest from half a lime
. Combine all the above in a metal bowl. Add the juice of half a lime, a big swig of soy sauce, some freshly ground pepper, a splash of olive oil, and a T of brown sugar. Put aside to marinade for at least half an hour.

Heat some oil (I use Rice Bran Oil for my basic cooking) in a heavy pan and start frying up the fat you've removed from the meat. This is just to get the flavour of the meat into the onion base. While you can eat this cooked fat, I don't recommend it. It might seem crunchy and nice at first, but it doesn't go down quite the same as crackling.

Preheat the oven to 210c.

Normally I would make a base for the stew of onions and carrots, but our visit to the market today convinced me to deviate from this plan ever so slightly. We got some lovely carrots with the tops still on, which I couldn't bear to chop up, and we got some really cheap tomatoes, some of which were on the way out.

Roughly chop one large onion and four overripe tomatoes. Remove the beef fat from the pan, cook the onions and tomatoes until softened (about 7 minutes) and then place in an oven dish that has a lid. Add a little extra oil to loosen up the pan, get the oil very hot, then add the meat. As liquid runs off the meat into the pan, drain through a sieve back into the metal bowl, and tap any solid flavour in the sieve back into the pan. Repeat this until the meat is able to brown nicely, probably about 3 times. Into the metal bowl with the juices, add a cup of hot water and half an Oxo Beef Stock Cube. If you have a cup of beef stock, this will do the trick as well. Stand this by.

When the meat is brown all over and just starting to crisp, remove from the pan into the oven dish with the onions. Heat the pan again and add about 1/4 Cup of Red Wine. Use a spatula to stir up all the residual flavours from the pan, then add the stock mixture. Allow this to reduce. Mix up 1t of cornflour in 1/2 a Cup of cold water and add gradually. You may not need to put all the cornflour mixture in, just judge it as you go. Continue to reduce the gravy, allowing it to thicken, until its about the consistency of cream.

Peel and chop a kumara into bite-size pieces. Pour the gravy into the oven dish and add in the kumara. Combine all and place in the oven, covered. Cook at 210c for 25mins, then reduce to 190c for a further 1 1/2 hrs.

Meanwhile, get your dumplings ready. This comes pretty much straight from the Edmonds CookBook, so if you don't have this fine kitchen manual, I strongly suggest you find a copy. Sift 1.25C of Flour, 1t Baking Powder, a pinch of salt and the other half of the Oxo Cube into a bowl. Add a shake of dried mixed herbs and 50g of butter, cubed. If you have a pastry blender, this is an easy way to crumble up the ingredients. If not, just rub it through your fingers until it feels like a light crumble. Then add milk or water a little at a time until the dough forms into a sticky mass.

The stew should cook for 2 hours, and the dumplings should go in for the last half hour. Get the stew out of the oven. If it seems a little dry, add a splash of hot water over the top. Spoon the dumpling dough over the stew in balls, replace the lid and return to the oven for the final half hour.

For the veges tonight, I sliced the carrots lengthwise so that they still felt all rural what with their tops on and all. I steamed them for about 10 minutes and put the fresh green beans into the steamer for the last 2 minutes. Crunchy fresh veges with tender beef and chewy dumplings! With the fire going and the rain walking down the windows, it was a great night to be inside.